After days of being the subject of a doping scandal, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva has been cleared to compete at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, a ruling that’s sparked backlash from the figure skating community.
Valieva made Olympic history last week, when she became the first woman in history to land a quadruple jump during the Games. Her astounding performance landed her team a gold medal. But public applause quickly turned to scrutiny when a Russian outlet reported the 15-year-old tested positive for trimetazidine, a banned heart medication, in a sample collected on Dec. 25 in Russia.
The decision to let her compete, which comes just a day before the individual women’s skating event on Tuesday, was made by three arbitrators from the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. In a statement, the panel said that it wasn’t Valieva’s “fault” that she received the results from her anti-doping tests late. It also noted she did not test positive at the Beijing Games, though it did not decide whether Valieva was guilty of knowingly using a banned drug.
The decision to allow Valieva to compete has garnered condemnation from the international figure skating world, also underscoring Russia’s history with doping scandals.
After a whistleblower brought to light that Russia was conducting a state-sponsored doping program for years leading up to the 2014 Sochi Games, the country has been prohibited from international competitions since Dec. 2020. Though an appeal shortened the exclusion period from four to two years, the ban runs through the Beijing Games.
But even if the ban technically excludes Russia’s flag, name, and anthem from the Beijing Olympics, Russian athletes who are not linked to the doping scheme—such as Valieva—are still allowed to participate in global competitions as neutral competitors under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).
The decision prompted the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to issue a statement, claiming, “We are disappointed by the messages this sends.”
“This appears to be another chapter in the systemic and pervasive disregard for clean sport by Russia,” it added.
The Canadian Olympic Committee expressed similar disappointment. “The COC is fully committed to clean sport and we firmly believe that no one involved in doping or other corrupt practices has a place in the Olympic movement,” it stated.
The teenager’s coach Eteri Tutberidze has maintained that Valieva is innocent.
“I want to say that I am absolutely sure that Kamila is innocent and clean,” Tutberidze said on Russian state television.
“For us, this is not a theorem, but an axiom, it does not need to be proved. We are with our athletes, in trouble and in joy, to the end,” her coach added.